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Sunday, January 19, 2020
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Savannah Wrapping Up First Year Of Budgeting for Outcomes

Category: Local Govts & Politics

SBJ Staff

11/09/2009 - The city of Savannah’s experiment with a pioneering fiscal process dubbed ‘Priority Driven Budgeting’ has reached a crucial stage.

Eight budgeting teams made up of a cross-section of department managers have submitted spending plans to City Manager Michael Brown designed to maintain effective service levels after cutting $12 million from a $300 million fiscal 2010 budget.

Brown is to then sift through the reports and make his spending recommendations to the City Council during a budget retreat on Burnside Island Nov. 30. The mayor and aldermen are to receive a draft budget Thursday, Nov. 19.  The new budget goes into effect Jan. 1.

Marching orders given each department included permanently cutting 70 positions, all of which are vacant at the moment.
The hard choices made this year are likely to be permanent and thus projections and calculations must have a great degree of accuracy, said Brett Bell, city spokesman.

“This is based on our fiscal reality,” he said. “This (current economic conditions) is not a hiccup here.”

The Priority Driven Budgeting first took shape in Seattle and has been adopted by several municipalities across the country. In Savannah’s case, city administrators went looking for a structured process to achieve specific outcomes as an alternative to across-the-board cuts. To that end, they created teams which were assigned the review of the budgets of various departments of the city. Their job is to assess “offers” from city departments to provide services, detailing spending that would achieve the results.

For instance, to achieve high performance government, the city set as an outcome a fiscally responsible, accessible and responsible government that maximizes the use of public resources for needed services.

To get there, each department presents the teams “offers” on how to achieve specified outcomes and the projected costs of each, rather than taking the current year’s budget and just adding or subtracting a percentage increase or decrease. Each department must make their case on how they can provide the services they say they can provide at a specific price – their 2010 operating budget.  Essentially, it’s a performance commitment at a price, city documents say.

“Each department has to make justifications for funding,” said Bell, the city spokesman.

If accomplished as envisioned, the process will provide a logical methodology for prioritizing activities and programs, foster collaboration and flexibility, give managers opportunities to innovate and, lastly, avoid gimmicks like across-the-board cuts
In assessing the offers, the teams had to weigh some key questions:

• How much revenue - what is the price of government the city can charge its citizens?

• What results matter most to citizens - what are the priorities of government the city delivers to citizens?

• How much should the city spend to achieve each result?

• How can the city best deliver the results that citizens expect?

Bell said having 40 departments within city government made it difficult to se where functions coincide.  But the city did find sme synergies, which will help avoid declines in service levels while cutting department expenses and leaving vacant positions unfilled.

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